How Tiny Habits can have a Big Impact

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Behavior change is the perfect glue that connects Customer Experience to Employee Experience.

Without happy employees, there are no happy customers. It’s a frequently heard phrase that no one disagrees with, but to which little concrete action is taken. Employee Experience is much less in the spotlight than Customer Experience, despite all the research that has been showing for years that more and more employees are disengaging. This has only been exacerbated in 2020 and 2021 by everything that has been going on around COVID.

But if you’ve been following me for a while, you know that complaining is not really in my DNA. That’s why I’m happy to share a hopefully refreshing, scientifically-based, yet pragmatic perspective with you on how we can use the hype around Customer Experience to directly improve Employee Experience.

Too functional view of Employee Experience

Before I paint that hopeful future, let me kick a little against the current situation. Sorry, but if we don’t understand it well, then we have no reason to do it differently. One of the challenges we face is that many organizations and HR departments have a too functional, too transactional view of Employee Experience. This is logical given the traditional role of HR, think of arranging contracts, onboarding, training, etc.

There is more and more employee engagement research being done, but trust me, there is so much to criticize from a scientific perspective that it will not help us towards the desired transformation of more happy employees (listen to my podcast on the Drivers of Employee Experience if you want to know more about this).

Instead of being too functional, on the other hand, it can sometimes become too vague. Yes, in the end we are certainly talking about culture, but if you’re not careful, you can spend a lot of time on leadership sessions without a concrete translation to employees’ daily work. Let alone actively working together to reach concrete desired behaviors in that daily work. Most organizations have certain values described together, but have they been discussed to such an extent that employees know: okay, if I’m in that sales conversation with the customer and scenario X happens, then value Y means that I can handle this situation like this? I almost never come across this.

The pragmatic, impactful mix

OK, enough about what’s going wrong. Let’s focus on how we can get this right! You know what’s the amazing thing about this experience field? You can connect so many things beautifully. Then employees understand how everything fits together and it doesn’t feel like a bunch of separate initiatives. In this case, we connect the following scientifically proven elements: the drivers of customer experience, energy and playfulness (important driver for transformation), tiny habits (behavior change), and experimentation.

1. CX drivers = EX meaning

In earlier blogs, you’ve already read how you can use journey mapping and smart statistics to identify the real drivers of customers (watch this video if you want to see this again). In 99 out of 100 cases, that number 1 driver – and thus the customer’s need – is also exactly what motivated that employee to choose their job in the first place. It’s almost always the human aspect that is most important to customers. Give me more personal attention, be there for me when I need you, treat me as a person, not as a number, put yourself in my situation. And meaning or purpose is almost always the number one driver of employees. The great thing about combining these two is that you can make the sometimes abstract theme of meaning very concrete by focusing on improving this number 1 driver of customers. That’s why I always say: start with CX as an organic start for better EX.

2. Translate the drivers into tiny habits

You have probably been in brainstorming sessions with employees before to see what can be improved based on customer research and journey maps. These brainstorms often remain quite abstract. People find it difficult to be creative, but especially to be very concrete and to translate it into their daily work. That’s where you come in. Based on the theory of Tiny Habits, you create a menu with a maximum of 10 experiments for each function in your organization. For example, for account managers, you create different experiments from the drivers than for call center agents. The format of those experiments and Tiny Habits is:

“In the next 4 weeks, after I [fill in routine], [fill in behavior experiment]”

For example, suppose the driver is that the customer wants more personal attention and the function you are working on is account managers. Then one of your experiments could look like this:

“In the next 4 weeks, after I have picked up my phone to look up the customer’s number, I’ll take 2 seconds to think: how can I give my customer more personal attention in this conversation?”

And you’ll have a different conversation with that customer.

This way, you translate the most important drivers of the customer into the steps in the journey that are affected by each function. You create a list of 10 experiments by immersing yourself in the daily context of the employees (and managers). You can do this by having a few sessions with representatives of each function separately, asking them about their daily work and what link they see with the most important driver for customers. After that session, you make the 10 experiments, let them review it once, and together you have created a nice list in a short period of time (2 to 3 weeks).

3. Organize an energetic campaign

OK. Drivers customers: check. Tiny habits: check. Now it’s time to get as many employees as possible excited to sign up (yes, voluntarily!) to start working with those experiments themselves. And no, we’re not doing that through the management line or with a rather boring corporate campaign (sorry branding colleagues, I’m always at odds with you about this, but hang in there, it has always been worth it and in the end we always like each other ;-).

You look for an inspiring theme that leads to a lot of energy and fun. Suppose you’re in the electronics business, what about the “Illuminators”? I’m just giving you an idea, I can think of a lot more. Then you go wild on a few goodies in that theme, an intro, and some graphic material in that theme and you create an email campaign. For a week, you send ALL employees a video every day of a colleague who explains in 2-3 minutes why he/she is participating. By ALL, I mean not just your CX or staff colleagues, but all employees in the operation. Of course, these videos include both the CEO and colleague employees and the layers in between. Your mission? At least 10% of all employees who sign up to participate in the experiments (and yes, rest assured, you’ll easily get more than 10% if you do it right, at least 20% to 50%). So here you combine top quality content (tiny, impactful habits menu) with a good dose of fun and energy. That balance is crucial, it must feel authentic and not like a trick.

4. Nudge the participants

With the people who have signed up, you will do a short kick-off and take them through the principles behind Tiny Habits so that they know what they can do to successfully execute their experiment in the next 4 weeks. To help them, you will send a very short, inspiring email twice a week as a nudge to remind them not to forget (‘Hey Zanna, it’s almost 5 o’clock, wouldn’t it be nice to end the day with a happy customer?‘).

5. Enjoy the results!

After those 4 weeks, you ask the participants for feedback: did the experiment help them? Was the work easier, more enjoyable, more impactful, with more meaning? (Yes is usually the answer). Did you receive feedback from customers that you didn’t get before? (Yes is usually the answer, although not every experiment is suitable for customer feedback). Would you recommend the experiment to your colleagues? (Yes is often the answer).

In this way, by linking customer drivers, employee drivers, behavior change, and experimentation together, you make the complex underlying themes such as purpose, meaning, and engagement tangible and palpable. For me personally, every time I see the reactions, it gives me goosebumps. This way, organically and with lots of energy and playfulness, we bring back the humanity into the organizational system that has sometimes lost it, without conscious intention, due to various production-oriented, KPI-related reasons.

With these 4 weeks, you have planted a beautiful seed to prevent this way of working from becoming a one-time thing, but as a next step, you can think together about how to integrate it into onboarding new colleagues, existing training, experiments with leadership, integrating into existing systems, etc. And so, we are quietly building transformation and a culture of more human-centered organizations, without just talking about it for years… Are you in?

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